NLC REPORTS: The Future of Equity in Cities

National League of Cities (NLC)

As cities embrace a future permeated by technology, local leaders must continually reassert and revisit community values, while ensuring these values are the foundation of new plans, policies, and programs.   This is particularly true in the areas of infrastructure, public safety and economic development, which are consistently identified as top issues of concern for city officials. 

NLC's latest report, "The Future of Equity in Cities" takes these core issues and forecasts the opportunities and challenges to come in the near-term, and further out in 2030.

Economic Development - Equitable Growth

Cities are becoming more diverse, but simultaneously more segregated and inequitable. Ninety-eight percent of growth in the one hundred largest cities since 2000 was from growth in minority populations. A Brookings Institution analysis of the 2011- 2015 American Community Survey found that despite this increased diversity in cities, racial segregation has only moderately declined.  Dominantly white neighborhoods in cities were 79 percent white in 2000 and 72 percent white in 2015, despite the overall white population in cities having dropped from 64 percent to 56 percent during the same period. For neighborhoods outside of large metropolitan areas, this reduction was even smaller, from 84 percent to 80 percent. As a nation, higher birth rates for racial minorities are projected to make the aggregate minority population a majority of the country by 2043.2 In the majority of cities, the fastest growing employment sectors are high-skill and high wage, but unfortunately these sectors are not likely to add the same number of aggregate jobs as much larger and lower-skilled sectors like retail, food service, and office and administration. This spatial mismatch of employment and wages will only be amplified by future growth trends in cities and will reinforce inequities. It is imperative that cities work to counteract these trends now.

As cities take advantage of new, disruptive technologies, they also need to get serious about equity. This means comprehensively defining it, determining what it means and how it might benefit the community, and ensuring it is a priority in every facet of their administrations, including partnerships with other sectors and outside organizations. New technological interventions can offer significant value to cities. There is always an opportunity to channel the forces of new tech to solve challenges for the most vulnerable populations. Solving problems for these populations often improves life for everyone in a community, as public problems tend to be collective. Furthermore, technological forces are not inherently neutral, and that sometimes their reliance on market forces means that they impact different communities in different ways. An autonomous vehicle might be groundbreaking and exciting in a dense urban area and simultaneously wipe out a prominent sector of the economy in a remote, rural area. For this reason, an acknowledgement of values and priorities must precede adoption. Finally, cities should begin with an honest evaluation of how their city is performing across all departments, programs and policies. As they adopt new technologies and smart city systems, they should think about whether those new interventions might improve or hinder existing inequities and biases.